Who Were You Before the World
Told You Who to Be?
Using Your Story as a Clue to How to Live Now
When I was a child I had a swing set at the back of our yard, right next to our hedge of lilacs. This was the 1970s and I spent many hours by myself, unsupervised and undirected by adults. Many of those hours were spent on the glider swing, singing my heart out. Sometimes my friend Nancy joined me but often it was just me out there, feeling for all the world free and full of joy.
I imagine now that someone heard me singing. Surely the neighbor lady Gert looked out her kitchen window at this strange little girl singing nursery rhymes to the lilac bushes. Most likely she just smiled and went about her work.
Today I sit on my front porch and listen to the play of the little girls three doors down. They sing and giggle and it fills me with joy to hear it. I sit back in my rocking chair and remember how free I felt when I was their age.
At some point I began to lose that freedom. I was always quiet and shy but I became fearful. Life no longer felt safe and anxiety crept in. I was a sensitive child of divorce and remarriage and I found some adults frightening. Adults seemed unpredictable and either too loud or too silent, and I was forever seeking their approval.
My fear is represented by the fact that there was a boogeyman in my closet. His image was right there in the wood grain of the door, and at night he threatened to hurt me and my brother. I laid awake imagining scary scenarios in which I’d have to run into my brother’s room, scoop him out of his crib and save us both by racing down the stairs to the safety of my mother’s room. And if it wasn’t the boogeyman I feared, it was the house starting on fire. It was always up to me to save us.
What a lot of burden for a little girl to carry!
I continued to carry this burden into my adult life, and it showed up particularly after I became a mother. Everything was up to me, or so I felt. The weight of expectation rested very, very heavily on my shoulders. My son showed signs of autism, was often sick and rarely slept. I became obsessed with our diet and whether I’d eaten something to set off his crying. Again, I laid awake imagining scary scenarios but this time I felt truly powerless to change anything. No matter what I did, ate or didn’t eat, or how I went about my day with my son, things were terribly difficult. I loved Eli with all my heart but I could not figure out how to help him.
This worry and sleeplessness began to take a terrible toll on my health. By the time our second child, Rose, was two I had been either pregnant or nursing for about five years. I believe it wasn’t the physical demands of this but the mental and emotional ones I placed on myself that made me ill. I began to have dizzy spells and double vision and tingling hands and feet. I grew very tired and sometimes my leg muscles would contract and not work right. My whole body ached and my brain was often fuzzy. I didn’t even notice what was happening to me enough to put it all together until I went for a routine checkup at the doctor’s office.
The doctor was worried and made an appointment right away with a neurologist.
My visits with the neurologist were difficult. I was exhausted and unable to recall details that he asked me to provide. His attitude with me was like a slap in the face at times and I quickly switched from vague non-awareness to hyper vigilance over my health. I paid attention to every detail that my body put forth. I wrote things down. When my vision blurred, where my body ached, when I would feel faint and dizzy — it all went into my notebook and became permanently etched into my brain.
I became obsessive over this illness now. I was sent for an MRI. Nothing showed up on the scan so there was no diagnosis of MS, which was our fear. I don’t know what the doctor wrote in his notes about me, but at some point I was crying in his office and he said these words to me:
“Lisa, this is a good thing. You don’t want to be sick.”
And somewhere, a lightbulb went off in the deepest recesses of my brain. I knew that he was right in two ways. One, by this point in my obsessiveness I believe I wanted to be sick. I was getting some attention for this! My husband was worried about me enough to ask how I felt each day. I was finally focusing (obsessively, no less) on myself and my own health, for the first time in years. I was imagining a life in a wheel chair where people would have to help me get around. My home would have to be designed around me and my needs. I would get sympathy and loving looks. This was my hidden secret by this point. I was relishing being sick because of the attention.
And two, I did not want to be sick. This was just as true as the first truth. This second truth sparked my faith that perhaps my life could be different. I was compelled to ask myself, if I didn’t want to be sick and didn’t want to live with so much stress and burden, what did I want?
I have always had a strong connection to God and the Spirit world. I believed that when I was singing to the lilac bushes, I wasn’t alone. When I was 18 years old, I even had this supernatural experience that reassured me that I was not alone and God was on my side, in spite of feeling at the moment like everything was working against me.
My true faith in something greater began to kick in when the doctor’s words sparked this new truth in me. I did not want to be sick. I did not want to live a stressed out, people-pleasing, burden bearing life any more. So what did I want?
I began to follow my own clues to detect what I wanted. When I saw a flyer for a class on herbal medicine, a class that took place at a local farm, I signed up and had my husband bring baby Rose to me to nurse at lunch time. Something I would not have thought possible because I didn’t want to leave my kids all day, suddenly seemed possible and I made it work. I didn’t have to do it alone.
Later I saw this herbalist for remedies for myself and I signed up for an entire year of herbal medicine classes with her. The remedies and classes helped me heal my body and my spirit because finally, finally I was doing something for myself.
In the years since, I have become a bit of a serial entrepreneur and personal development junkie. I opened and ran a yarn shop for one year but that didn’t make my heart sing. I tried my hand at being an herbalist but that didn’t make my heart sing. I trained for and became a life coach, but that also doesn’t exactly make my heart sing.
What makes my heart sing is writing about all those things I’ve learned to do and be. Self-expression is where I am happiest, and for me that comes in writing for my blog, journaling every morning, writing poetry when the muse appears, and sharing my personal stories and wisdom with the world through writing.
I believe that who we were before the world became a scary place whose expectations we must continually strive to live up to gives us clues to who we are. I love to sing, but it’s unlikely that I will ever be a professional singer because I have not taken a voice lesson in my life. I also love herbal medicine and being outdoors with plants, but being an herbalist is also not who I am. What I can cling to is my faith in an abundant life, and that joyous, uninhibited self-expression I experienced as a small child. I can use the gift that has always stayed with me, my writing, to express myself and to teach and encourage others to be who they truly are too.
Who were you before the world told you who to be? Go back to your earliest memories of joy and re-live them in your mind. Write them down. Use your own story as a clue to who you are at your core, and how you want to live your life now.